Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do Not Spit in Our Face and Tell Us It Is Raining: More Thoughts On Dissent

"Don't spit in my face and tell me it's raining"

—Old Yiddish Saying.


Preliminary Disclaimer

This article is not a Triumphalist "Love it or leave it" article.  I do not want people to leave the Church.  Rather I wish for them to consider the serious nature of rejecting Church authority.

A good article to consider can be found HERE.

An excellent book to read on the topic of conscience can be found HERE.

Also please keep in mind I am not talking about disagreeing with some wingnut priest or nun who teaches contrary to the Church or lives contrary to her teachings.  Nor am I talking about whether some priest or nun agrees or disagrees with Glen Beck or some other political commentator one likes or dislikes.  I am speaking here of dissent from the formal teachings of the Church on issues of faith and morals.

Introduction: Catholicism and Disagreement.  How it Differs From Non-Catholic Disagreement

One way that Catholicism differs from other Christian denominations is over the issue of dissent.  For example, the Protestant who dislikes how his denomination interprets Scripture can just go and begin attending services at another denomination which interprets Scripture as he thinks is right.  He'll still be considered a Protestant in good standing.  The Baptist and the Methodist may disagree on issues, but one does not think the other is any less a Protestant for being in a different denomination.

However, the Catholic who either begins to attend services at another denomination either breaks from the Church (formal schism) or merely lives in a way contrary to the Church teaching cannot claim that his or her actions are in keeping with the teachings of the Church.

The reason for this difference is that Catholics believe that there is a living Magisterium which continues to pass on the teachings of the Apostles, passing on the truth and rejecting error.  For Catholics, the faith is not a matter of personal interpretation, but involves objective truth, which cannot be in contradiction to other truths.  Since we believe that Christ is God, it follows that we must obey Him to be faithful to His call (John 15:10).

The Wedge of Dissent

Because dissenters cannot claim their actions are in keeping with the teaching of the Church, dissenting Catholics seek to place a wedge between Christ and the Catholic Church, saying that the Church is not doing what God wills, while the dissenter is doing what God wills.

Such a claim needs to provide proofs to justify how one can say the Church got it wrong for so long, but the dissenter figured it out on his own.

Now, it is one thing for a non-Catholic to believe the Church does not do what God wills.  I believe such a non-Catholic errs of course but, since he or she does not believe that the Catholic Church is established by Christ, the non-Catholic who thinks this way is at least practicing what they preach.

It is far less justifiable for the Catholic to believe in this way.  If we believe that God is the supreme authority in the universe whom we are obligated to obey, and that Jesus Christ, His Son, is one person of the Trinity, it follows that what Jesus teaches, we are obligated to obey.  Since we, as Catholics, believe that Jesus Christ established a Church and established that not listening to the Church is the same as not listening to Him (cf. Matthew 18:17, Luke 10:16), the person who thinks they may ignore the teachings of the Church they dislike must asses their behavior as they seem to fall in one of these categories:

  1. They do not understand what the Church actually teaches and rebel against a Straw Man
  2. They do not consider the ramifications of their behavior
  3. They do not believe what the Church teaches about her relation to Christ.

The rest of this article is intended to look at these motivations, and what logically follows from them in terms of doing what is right.

The Dissenter Who Acts out of Ignorance

There are certainly those who rebel against what they wrongly believe the Church teaches.  There are those who left the Church because they believe we "worship" Mary.  There are those who denounce the Church as cruel because they do not see why the Church teaches the way they do.

The problem is, such behavior is built on logical fallacy.  Those who impute to the Catholic Church something she does not believe are rejecting authority over the Straw Man fallacy: If the Church does not hold what the dissenter claims, the dissenter has no logical grounds in his attack.

As for those who do not understand what the Church teaching, they are under the Argument from Silence fallacy.  Just because this sort of dissenter does not understand why the Church teaches as it does, it does not mean the Church does not have a valid reason.  Certainly the person who would dissent from the Church is obligated to look into what the Church does teach, and not merely what the dissenter thinks the Church teaches.

All too often the Church has been accused of teaching it does not teach, simply because secular society uses a similar term and uses it in a different context.  Thus, when the Church speaks of Social Justice, she is often accused of being liberal.  When the Church speaks of moral issues, she is often accused of simply being "Right Wing."

"Liberal" and "Conservative" are what we call Contrary terms.  The Church cannot be both, but it can be "none of the above"  Indeed, if both political factions accuse it of being in the other faction, the odds are good it belongs to neither.

As a result some dissenters reject the Church teaching, not for what she teaches, but for what the dissenter wrongly believes the Church teaches.

In such a case, the dissenter will face God and be judged on what he or she could have known if the dissenter had bothered to check.  The person who would find it impossible to learn (called invincible ignorance) won't be judged for what they could not know.

The dissenter who could have learned but refused to do so will not get off so lightly. If the Catholic Church is the Church which Jesus Christ established (and we Catholics do believe this), then it follows the Catholic has no excuse for his or her lack of knowledge of what is right to do.

Keeping this in mind, we have our first principle:

Before setting oneself in opposition to Church teaching, one should check and see what the Church actually teaches on the subject.  "I do not know," is NOT a valid principle for dissent.

Those who do not consider the ramifications of their Dissent

—Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death! (Proverbs 16:25)

Many people who dissent do not do so because they think the Catholic teaching untrue.  Rather they never go beyond thinking the Catholic teaching is difficult.  The assumption is that since "God is love" (1 John 4:8), He doesn't want us to suffer difficulties, and therefore anything which inconveniences us must be against what God wills."

Think about the martyrs who died for the faith rather than to deny God.  Then think of this dissenting view again.  Since death is indeed suffering and is difficult, and we are indeed called to suffer death rather than to deny Him, we can see a huge problem with the assumption.  Either the martyrs were grossly insensitive to those they left behind or else the "God doesn't want me to suffer difficulties" concept is a misstating of what God wants for us.

—There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. (Didache Chapter 1)

We need to realize that God wants us to be holy as He is holy (cf. Leviticus 19:2), and in His love for us, He wants for us to be with Him eternally.  However, some things which may seem good to us set us apart from God and will separate us from Him eternally if we choose to do them.  To love God means to keep his commandments (John 14:15), and as Catholics we believe that God established a Church in order to preach His word to the nations.

As human beings affected by sin, we need to recognize that we are prone to self deception, thinking of what we may want as the ultimate good.  To avoid this, we need to seek humility, to recognize that what may seem good to us personally may not be what God wants for us.

As Catholics we are called to accept her teachings as being bound in Heaven (Matthew 16:19), and that when we run afoul of the teachings of the Church, it is not the Church being mean, but us being self-deceived.

From this we have a second principle:

Before accusing the Church of being in the wrong, we must find out whether we are confusing our personal desires with God's will.

On Those Who Do Not Believe What the Church Teaches About Herself

Personally I find this position extremely illogical, even hypocritical.  The Catholic Church believes she is the Church established by Christ, and that she does have the authority to bind and loose.  If one does not believe this, then the ramifications are severe.  It would mean that the Church teaches falsely.  We can indeed use CS. Lewis' famous aut deus aut homo malus argument in this case [Please do not think I am comparing the Church with God here.  I am merely pointing out that accepting or rejecting her claims have logical consequences]:

Either the Church is what she teaches about herself, or she is a horrible fraud to be repudiated.

While I disagree with anti-Catholics, I recognize they are at least logically consistent.  Because they reject what she claims about herself, they believe they must oppose her.  The dissenting Catholic who remains within while believing she teaches falsely seeks the benefits of the Church while denying what the Church holds.

Such behavior would be hypocrisy.  To put it in a syllogism, we have:

  1. [Faithful Catholics] Accept [All Church Teaching]  (All [A] is [B])
  2. No [Dissenters] accept [All Church Teaching] (No [C] is [B])
  3. Therefore No [Dissenters] are [Faithful Catholics] (Therefore No [C] is [A])

To get out of this dilemma, the dissenter has to deny the major premise and claim it is they who are faithful to Christ while the Church is "out of touch" or "bureaucratic."

Let it be noted, by the way, that these are merely examples of name calling, not refutations.

There are two problems: One is of logic, the other is of practicing what they preach.

The logical issue is that if one wishes to claim themselves correct and the magisterium in error (remember we are not speaking of what Fr. Harry Tik says in a sermon or what Sr. Mary Flowerchild says in some classroom, but of what the Church officially professes to believe), we need to ask, "On what basis?"

Unfortunately the dissenter tends to argue in a circle begging the question.

  • Q: Why do you oppose the Church teaching on contraception? [Or abortion, or divorce, or social justice… ad infinitum].
  • A: Because the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch!
  • Q: Why do you believe the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch?
  • A: Because if they were following Jesus they would have a different teaching on contraception!

See the problem here?  The dissenter believes the Church stand on an issue shows the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch.  It believes the Church is bureaucratic and out of touch because of her stand on that issue.  The problem is such a claim does not show the Church is wrong for making the stand that it does.  Rather it merely demonstrates the dissenter dislikes the teaching, and this is not a valid reason for denying the Church teaching.

There is also a problem with consistency.  If you believe the Church teaches falsely, then why the hell are you still in this Church?

I don't ask this facetiously.  If the Church teaches wrongly, and if we are to follow the truth and live according to it, why remain in a body which one thinks teaches wrongly?  For example, I am not a member of the Catholic Church because I like the architecture or the liturgy.  I'm not a person looking for a father figure and domination in my life.  No, there is one reason I remain within the Catholic Church despite the problems she has:

I believe what she teaches is true, and is taught with the authority of Christ who protects her from error.

If I believed she did not teach truly, I would be searching for someplace where I thought they did teach truly.  If I believed she did not have the authority to teach, I would be looking for the Church that did. I do not believe that Christ left us in spiritual anarchy where there are conflicting interpretations of Scripture.

This brings us to our third principle:

If one rejects the Catholic teaching that her formal teachings on faith and morals are without error, to remain within her is inconsistent, and possibly hypocritical.

Practice What You Preach

Since Jesus Christ has declared He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6), and since we believe we are called to know, love and serve God (See CCC#1721), it follows that we must not live in error.  Rather, once we know something is true, we must live in accord with the Truth, and if we know something is false, we must cease to live by it.

Questions for the Would Be Dissenter

Because of this obligation to know, love and serve God, it means we must always seek to do His will.  Thus when it comes to dissent, the one who is at odds with the Church must ask some questions:

1) Do I understand the teaching I reject? 

Because we must recognize the possibility of our own errors, we need to ask ourselves if we truly understand the Church teaching which offends.  If one does not, one's dissent is based on ignorance and is not justified.

2) Do I understand the ramifications of rejecting a Church teaching?

To reject a Church teaching means one is either knowingly doing wrong, or else is believing the Church is wrong.  The first case is clearly sin.  The second requires the dissenter to answer the question of what use of reason or authority he or she uses to justify rejection of the Church teaching, and how the dissenter knows he or she does not err.

3) Do I consider the Church teaching to be wrong?  Or merely Difficult?

Jesus taught that His yoke is easy and His burden Light (Matthew 11:30), but it does remain a yoke.  We are not free to do whatever we wish:  We cannot use our freedom for the opportunity of the flesh (Galatians 5:13).  Sometimes we must choose a hard path, such as Martyrdom, rather than deny our faith (cf. 2 Tim 2:12).  Christ has told us "whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:38).

Just because a teaching may be inconvenient does not give us the right to disobey it.  If it is from God, we must obey it.  This brings us to our fourth question.

4) Do I believe the Church has Christ as her authority to teach?

As Catholics, it is an article of faith that Jesus intended to establish a visible Church which has the authority to teach in His name and to bind and to loose.  If one accepts this, one who runs afoul of her teachings must remember it is far more likely that the individual errs than the Church.

However, if one rejects this (and if the Church is wrong in her belief that Christ protects her from error, this is a pretty big delusion on the part of the Church), to remain within the Church is to demonstrate an indifference to doing what is right. 

Conclusion: Don't Spit In Our Face and Tell Us It's Raining

Essentially the Dissenter is a person who refuses to obey and considers themselves in the right for doing so.  However, reason tells us that if such a person professes to believe what the Church teaches then he or she errs when breaking with what the Church teaches in faith and morals, and is obligated to study the teaching he or she dislikes to understand why it is taught.

However, if the dissenter rejects the belief that God protects His Church from error, and her teaching is merely an opinion then the dissenter is demonstrating an inconsistency in remaining in the Church that makes such a claim.

In both cases, the dissenter displays error:

  1. In the first case, for claiming to believe the Church is protected from error while rejecting her teachings.
  2. In the second case for remaining within a Church they believe claim teaches falsely when she claims to be teaching truthfully.

This is why I have titled the article as I have.  The dissenter who justifies dissent from the Church while remaining within her is not living according to their beliefs.  They spit in the face of the Church through disobedience then claim that it is raining in that they claim they are doing God's will in doing so.

The dissenter should consider the ground they are on:

24 “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.

26 And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand.

27 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

On what basis are you certain your house is built on rock and not sand.